1996 Mountain Bike Magazine Review
Mountain Bike (1996)
COMFORT OR EFFICIENCY? CATAMOUNT SAYS TAKE BOTH.
by Zapata Espinoza
A funny thing happened during my first ride of the Catamount MFS (Mid Frame Suspension). But before we get into discussing Zippy's latest revelations, let's look at the bike. The Catamount is made by a two-person company in Fort Collins, Colorado. Larry Pastor and Scott Still are the two guys, and prior to starting up production last year, they did exhaustive research into rear-suspension designs. "Our goal wasn't as much to come up with something new as it was to develop something that worked well," says Pastor. "The first patent for a unified rear end was back in 1888, so its not like this is an altogether new technology."
Catamount's one-bike line is based on an updated version of that old unified-rear-triangle (URT) design, and it's available in six sizes. Our 19-inch test bike weighed 26.75 pounds, featuring 6061 aluminum, top-quality welds, a top tube that's ovalized at the seat tube, CNC-machined and pocketed dropouts, bridgeless and crimped chainstays (for increased tire and crank clearance), and massive triangulation of the bottom bracket. The price for a Catamount frameset, complete with a Fox Alps 4R shock and pump, is $1,350. Catamount also offers the bike with three different component groups, with prices from $2,200 to $2,850. The company designed its frame around forks with 2.5 to 3 inches of travel. When mated to the rear end's 3.5 inches of travel, this makes for the ideal cross-country set-up.
But what about that revelation?
Okay, I just came back from test-riding the Catamount and before I say anything else, I'd like to apologize directly to all my bike-geek, race-oriented friends who are always obsessing over how "efficient" a bike is. I've been known to malign you guys for this (urging you to instead obsess on something real, like how pretty the trail surroundings are). But to Mark, Chris, Cindy, Reece, Wick and anyone else I've dissed, I now say I'm sorry. I've seen the light.
It happened after pumping the Catamount's Fox Alps 4R air shock to a higher-than-prescribed pressure. this gave me a ride quality unlike any I've ever had on a URT bike.
Before I got to that point, thought, I experimented with different air pressures. Since I rode my first URT bike two years ago, I had generally set my shock settings on the soft side, especially on the high-pivot URTs (Schwinn, IBis), The reason was that their design encourages a seated position at all times, so I sought spring rates or air settings that complemented that style. But Catamount suggests that you set up its bike at about 40 psi over your body weights, with 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch of sag. I did that (at 185 psi) and it rode just fine. Next, I tried going softer, to 135 psi, and rode through the same rock-strewn creek bed. With the rear end bobbin all over the place I realized that it's wise to stay near the recommended set-up procedure. Or is it?
When I pumped up the shock to 200 psi, even pushing down on the saddle with my hands would barely get the shock to compress. Given my experience on standard suspension bikes, I figured this one would ride too harshly if the shock were this stiff. Wrong! With the increased seated leverage of the Catamount's high pivot, the MFS went from being a *****in' touring bike to a super-efficient racer. Screw the scenery--all I could talk about was how damn efficient this bike felt.
This IS a revelation: With a high-pivot URT, you always expect Barcalounger comfort when seated. But the Catamount goes beyond that, also providing high-speed pedaling efficiency. The only drawback. Well, as with all URT's, you lose the bump-eating capacity when you stand on the pedals, but if you're into seated comfort and speed, it's a price you might not mind paying.
Other handling notes? The front end was a tad on the light side, as evidenced by the front wheel's wavering on slow-speed climbs. Another surprise was that the bridgeless chainstays don't hurt the rear-end's rigidity at all. In fact, we came away thinking that the Catamount had a tighter rear-end/one-bike feel than the Trek Y-bike. This is no doubt due to the wider pivot, the bottom bracket's triangulation and the massive 7/8-inch-square tubing used throughout the rear triangle. The result is a nice, unified ride. the 23.375-inch top tube was on the long side for an 18-inch frame. Most of our test riders who are used to an 18-inch frame felt stretched out (the 19-inch riders were comfy cozy). Catamount is spot on when it suggests that riders in the 5-foot-10 to 6-foot range should ride the 18-inch frame.
WELCOME TO GEEKDOM
Unified bikes still have a unique ride to them. This is their virtue, but also their curse. Many riders who are used to more traditional rear-suspension designs have yet to embrace URTs. They don't like the active/less-active quality, depending on whether you're seated or standing. And they're bothered by the rear-end rise that happens under hard braking. There was also a noticeable bob in the suspension on steep seated climbs, which cause the more anal-retentive among our testers (the static-leg-extension-is-next-to godliness-types) to have a fit.
If you're making the move to full suspension from a hardtail, though, you won't be hampered by these preconceived notions and biases. Just be aware that the suspension ends as soon as you stand on the pedals. That may be no big deal to you. After all, not many bikes out there with multi-pivot designs offer the ideal, fully active, plush, smooth ride that everyone seems to be chasing. Nothing is perfect. Not yet.
But some things are surprising. I had always considered URTs mostly touring bikes (because they work best when you're seated). Now I'm not so sure. The Catamount offers real race-worthy performance. A bonus: URTs have a penchant for wheelies, which can help you in rough race terrain as you try to move up in the pack (you can literally wheelie past the other bikes in the rough spots).
As unfashionable as the air shock has become, this is a bike where is makes good sense, due to the URT's high leverage ratio. The same air shock that would offer a ton of stiction on a non-unified bike becomes super plush with a unified design. Another selling point with the Catamount is the single pivot, which uses the Gerlock bushing. Catamount says it needs zero maintenance.
In the end, I still prefer bikes that provide good handling and comfortable rides, rather than some bike-geek inspired, praying-on-the-altar-of-efficiency race bike. The great thing about the Catamount MFS is that it seems to be both. It gave me brief entry into the work of geekdom--a place that my underpowered, skinny legs seldom experiences--and I have to admit, I kind of liked being there.